• Picatinny scaling up in-house chemicals production to shun higher costs

    The 30 Gallon Glass-Lined Nitration Reactor. (Photo by Todd Mozes)

    By Audra Calloway


    ROCKAWAY TOWNSHIP, N.J. (March 10, 2014) — Picatinny scientists and engineers have established a pilot production facility to create the Army’s only in-house process for scaling up chemical compounds, a move that could save money by not having to rely on costlier compounds from outside suppliers.

    The Picatinny engineers are manufacturing tetranitrocarbazole, or TNC, the compound that serves as the “first-fire” composition for pyrotechnics, such as illumination rounds, signal grenades, mortars and artillery rounds.

    The “first fire” is what starts ignition within the system.

    “This is the only pilot facility like it in the Army, and ARDEC is trying to leverage its expertise for developing manufacturing processes,” explained Stacey Yauch, chemical engineer with the Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center, or ARDEC.

    “Most of the military’s explosive manufacturing processes are developed by the contractors,” explained Yauch.

    “An ARDEC engineer might develop the compound, but the manufacturing process is typically developed by the contractor,” Yauch explained. “It’s difficult for the government to find competition between sources to get a better price because the contractor who develops the process always has an upper hand in the competition.

    “If we develop the process here, we can then provide it to industry to attract potential manufacturers, which would mitigate risk to manufacturers on process development cost and time.”

    Development of the process to produce TNC scale up is being done by ARDEC and the Program Executive Office Ammunition’s Project Manager Joint Services.

    The pilot-scale production process will be developed in the Flexible Nitration Facility at ARDEC. The production process will be optimized, documented, and transitioned to a full-scale facility to produce TNC at Crane Army Ammunition Activity, Crane, Ind.

    The pilot “scale up” first began in a lab with chemists creating grams of TNC initially, eventually working up to two pounds of the substance. While in the lab, the engineers recorded data such as heat rates, reaction times and temperature, and optimized the process as best they could.

    Next, ARDEC transitioned the lab scale process to the pilot manufacturing facility that includes crystallization and nitration equipment.

    “At this point it’s not a lab anymore,” Yauch said, “You’re not working with beakers and test tubes. It’s regular equipment used in industry, but at a smaller scale. Once it leaves this stage it evolves to full-scale production.”

    So far, Yauch and her team have successfully produced small quantities of TNC. The next step is to reproduce a couple of batches at the 10-to-20-pound scale.

    “Right now we’re in 20- or 30-gallon reaction sizes,” Yauch said. “When you’re at a 10 or 20-pound scale you can start modeling what will happen at full scale when you’re making thousands of pounds.”

    However, the process at the pilot production facility is different than the process working in a lab due to the nature of the different equipment.

    “You have a general optimization of your temperatures and times, but it will change when you bring it up to this scale,” Yauch explained. “There’s a learning curve. Initially we didn’t get amount of TNC expected, so we stopped to determine the cause we were able to determine the reaction was not complete due to low temperature and short residence time. Once the problem was identified, we were able to obtain purer product on the second trial.”

    The TNC process created by ARDEC could be ready to transition to manufacturers by the end of March 2014.

    Once the TNC production process is completed, it will be transferred to the Project Manager Combat Ammunition System for use in mortar and illumination rounds.

    • ARDEC is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to develop technology and engineering solutions for America’s Soldiers.

      RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command. AMC is the Army’s premier provider of materiel readiness — technology, acquisition support, materiel development, logistics power projection, and sustainment — to the total force, across the spectrum of joint military operations. If a Soldier shoots it, drives it, flies it, wears it, eats it or communicates with it, AMC provides it.

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  • S&T Notebook: Strengthening Communication between S&T and Acquisition

    Anthony Franchino (right) at ARDEC demonstrates the Automated Direct/Indirect Mortar (ADIM) to Dr. Scott Fish (left), Army Chief Scientist. The ADIM is a magazine-fed, 81mm automated mortar that can be truck-mounted. (Photos by LTC Charles “Jack” Emerson, Military Assistant to the Army Chief Scientist)

    Dr. Scott Fish

    This is a regular column by Dr. Scott Fish, Army Chief Scientist, on activities in the Army science and technology (S&T) community and their potential impact on Army acquisition programs.

    On May 21, I gave the keynote address to the 18th Annual Automotive Research Center Conference, a cooperative effort hosted by the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development, and Engineering Center (TARDEC). Increasingly, S&T development is done with cooperation with academia, government research centers, industry partnerships, and centers like these, showcasing the best of these efforts. I toured TARDEC’s recently updated facilities and participated in discussions on the current development and state of the art of ground vehicle engines and drive system controllers.

    The following day was the annual Army S&T Corps meeting. This prized group of eminent scientists, mathematicians, and engineers are our senior technical leaders, with responsibilities associated with identifying key research and development directions, mentoring our junior technical cadre, and pursuing their own groundbreaking work. They actively participate in external technical communities, are geographically disperse, and have extensive experience across a broad spectrum of Army-relevant technical areas. Their stature is equivalent to that of chaired professors at leading research universities and government Senior Executive Service civilians. This meeting included a collective discussion of current trends and methods of enhancing interaction with the laboratory leadership.

    The robotics development community continues to demonstrate new and innovative solutions to current Army problems with the use of a variety of intelligent robot behaviors. Based on the enthusiasm of both the government and attendees, the future Army will continue to see robotic innovations to augment its capabilities.

    A large part of my interest involves how S&T programs are transitioned out of their place of development (for example, government labs, industry research and development, and university research) and into programs of record. There are numerous paths, but the best transitions occur where there is a large degree of communication, trust, and planning between the developer and the program management office. Strengthening these links creates better outcomes for the warfighter.

    In this vein, I have conducted several site visits to our program executive offices (PEOs) and RDECs. In June, I visited both the U.S. Army Armament Research, Development, and Engineering Center (ARDEC) and the U.S. Army Air and Missile Defense Research and Engineering Center. In conjunction with those visits, I also visited PEO Missiles and Space, PEO Soldier’s Project Manager Soldier Weapons, and PEO Ammunition. Several exciting developments are occurring in those areas, and some transition strategies are being examined in light of potential requirement changes reflecting the latest DoD strategic guidance.

    At ARDEC, an update on the nanotechnology center showed new achievements in the creation, production, and use of nanoparticles, while identifying new challenges to enhance product performance for the warfighter. The center is becoming a locus of industry and government nanotechnology research.

    Redstone Arsenal has several promising S&T developments in base protection that will prove essential to our future security. These are being incorporated into the major thrust areas of deployable force protection and the Force Protection Basing Technology Enabled Capability Demonstration.

    Lauren Armstrong and Deepak Kapoor at ARDEC's nanotechnology center talk with Fish about the novel properties of nano-materials. The center is leveraging the technology to develop materials that can be used for lightweight composites and explosive applications.

    Near the end of June, I attended the Robotics Rodeo, hosted by the Maneuver Battle Lab and the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, GA, and co-sponsored by the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization and TARDEC. The robotics development community continues to demonstrate new and innovative solutions to current Army problems with the use of a variety of intelligent robot behaviors. Based on the enthusiasm of both the government and attendees, the future Army will continue to see robotic innovations to augment its capabilities.

    On July 23, I briefed the Defense Materials Manufacturing and Infrastructure Workshop on Materials and Manufacturing (part of the National Academies). The group is investigating the issue of counterfeit parts as an increasing concern to military and government procurement professionals dealing with a burgeoning obsolescence issue. The group discussed potential mitigation strategies and the need for more insight into this area.

    Coming Up
    Later this month, I will be attending the summer session of the Army Science Board (ASB), which will brief its study findings to Army leadership. The board has had two studies this year: “Strategic Direction for Army Science and Technology,” sponsored by the Secretary of the Army, and “Small Unit Data to Decisions,” sponsored by the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command.

    We also plan on supporting the Board on Army Science and Technology (a standing committee chartered by the National Academies) by attending its upcoming meeting in September.

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